For more than a decade, Madison schools have been faced by racial disparities in academic performances. Known as the achievement gap, this problem has become a central issue in terms of curricula and distribution of resources as the level of poverty grows within the district.
We've asked the Madison school board candidates to identify when and how this issue should be addressed in schools, as well as how the problem can be solved outside of the purely educational setting.
Where and how should the Madison school district focus its efforts on reducing the achievement gap -- during the elementary, middle or high school years?
We need to start in the earliest grades, first or second grades, educating our children on the "3 R's". If a child cannot read or write at their grade level in the elementary years then that student will not be able to succeed in middle or high school.
The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) needs to work with both public and private partnerships to make sure that our students are able to read and write. As a board, we have to remember that one size does not fit all. We have to explore all possibilities, like using phonics in teaching students to read and write. We have to involve the parents along with the teachers to ensure that all students have not only the opportunity, in safe schools free of gangs and violence, but the resources, that are effective, to read and write. If needed, give extra resources to first and second graders who aren't keeping up to ensure that every child reads at or near grade level by the beginning of third grade.
If this means tutoring students in small groups that are having difficulty in reading and writing, then the MMSD needs to explore the possibilities of working with the university, the city, the county, and with the private sector to make sure that all students can read and write.
Anything less is not acceptable!
Johnny Winston, Jr.
The Madison school district should focus its efforts on each child in every class and across all grade levels. The district has programs and processes that have been proven to be effective. For example, small class sizes in elementary school have advanced the board's goal of students reading at grade level by third grade.
The middle school curriculum has been redesigned with standardized curricular choices in each school, and the district has shifted from a middle-school model to a junior-high model that will better prepare students for high school. Further, next year high schools will be analyzed and redesigned.
Public and private partnerships must also be developed for pre-kindergarten programs such as the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, African American Ethnic Academy, United Way's Schools of Hope Initiative and CUNA Mutual Foundation's Kindergarten Ready program. These partnerships garner academic resources to reduce the achievement gap and increase invaluable community volunteer support for the district that supplements school-age programming.
Addressing the achievement gap also includes selecting appropriate evaluation methods for measuring progress, such as value-added assessment. This is a new way of analyzing test data that can measure teaching and learning outcomes. Value-added assessment can show whether students have made educational growth over the course of a school year. Variables such as free/reduced lunch, race/ethnicity, gender, special education, English language learners, and mobility should be factors when analyzing student data and reducing the achievement gap.
By most accounts, closing the achievement gap will require more than an educational response. What else needs to be done?
Reading programs need to be evaluated as to their effectiveness in teaching students to read, and those programs that are not effective need to be changed or dropped in favor of programs that have been shown to be effective in teaching children to read. Emphasize the importance of doing well in school as it will pay off in a better life after you graduate.
We also need to involve the community that does not have children in school, along with the parents, to help with tutoring and volunteering in the schools as mentors. Charter schools and public schools have to have more freedom in what resources they can use and how those resources are used in teaching our students to read and write.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
A multi-faceted approach is needed to close the achievement gap, beyond more money and programs. First, the quality of family functioning needs to be addressed by local and state government and policy-makers.
Students who have two parents with stable incomes and housing typically perform better academically than those that do not. According to the Educational Testing Service, SAT scores increase with every $10,000 of family income. Other variables that correlate to high test scores include parents' years of schooling (particularly the mother) and children's exposure to books and travel.
These factors contribute to the social and intellectual capital of students.
Second, religious organizations such as the church, temple, and synagogue play critical roles in student achievement. For instance, attending Sunday school and church services extend learning beyond school hours. Students learn religious principals that can enhance self-esteem, civic-mindedness, and an overall value of education.
Lastly, we need to reinforce community and peer attitudes regarding the importance of education. All students, particularly those of color and in low-income status, need to know that being academically successful is not "acting white."
Education is the great equalizer in our society and will contribute to not only closing the achievement gap but also bettering life opportunities in jobs, income and housing. Reinforcing these attitudes can be realized practically through such means as public service announcements on radio and television promoting education.
What is your favorite children's book or book series?
My favorite children's book is The Little Engine that Could.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
As the father of a three year old, children's books are read on a regular basis in the Winston household. Some of Jasmine's favorites are Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel, Home Before Dark by Ian Beck and Daddy All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas. My favorite children's series is Dr. Seuss.